7 June 2023 by Alison Nicolle
Wexas cruise specialist Alison Nicolle gives an unbiased lowdown on what to expect on a Silversea expedition sailing. Along the way, she dispels plenty of luxury-cruise myths, from preconceptions on stuffy staff to why you should pack your swimming cossie, even on an Arctic sailing. What's more, the cruise featured heads out to Svalbard – the wilderness archipelago flung out somewhere between northern Norway and the North Pole. It's the desolate home to polar bears, whales and mighty glaciers.
Following a stop in Oslo, my trip started in style with an early charter flight. As it was fully organised by Silversea, it was a nice touch to be met by a representative at the airport before being treated to a full drinks and meal service onboard. It was also a great chance to meet my fellow passengers. Although – thanks to Silversea’s famed client loyalty – many were greeting old friends from previous cruises, I quickly found myself chatting away with the diverse clientele – of which about two thirds were Silversea returners. There was a welcome mix of nationalities and age groups, and even a couple of children aboard. I had been concerned that my fellow travellers weren’t going to be the kind that would enjoy all the outdoor adventure that makes a trip to Svalbard so great, but all my presumptions were quickly dispelled.
Typical expedition with the Silver Cloud
My misplaced expectations were going to be something of a common theme on the cruise. Indeed, on boarding the Silver Cloud – after a tour of Longyearbyen and its excellent town museum – I was blown away by the level of personal service. I’d heard of Silversea’s near one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio and was expecting something trending towards the overly formal. Instead, I was greeted onboard with a warm welcome and the first of many glasses of champagne as we were introduced to the superb expeditions team. All were fun, professional and hugely knowledgeable, counting botanists, Antarctic mountaineers and wildlife photographers among their number. All fears of a sedentary cruise quickly evaporated.
The impeccable service continued into my Vista Suite, where I was shown around by the lovely Sonal – my personal butler. Alongside offering a choice of pillows and Bulgari bath amenities, she was always on hand to make sure my complimentary minibar was stocked with drinks of my choice. A bottle of bubbly, if you’re asking. The room itself was equally impressive, complete with walk-in wardrobe, large seating area and a marble bathroom. Although I was in the only category without a balcony, the oversized picture window meant I didn’t miss a thing.
The seating area of a Vista Suite
Given that it hosts 296 guests, the Silver Cloud is on the larger side of expedition ships. That said, I found it delightfully intimate, something that’s in part down to the relaxed atmosphere and in part thanks to last year’s design overhaul. As this was an expeditionary sailing, the lecture theatre plays an important role in proceedings. It’s where we met the expedition leader, who explained how he’d manage the itinerary, keeping it flexible in the face of the unpredictable Arctic weather. As the cruise progressed, it was also the venue for talks on everything from the resident wildlife to the gulf stream’s impact on climate change.
To keep active, use of the gym and its classes was all included. Although on the small size, I never had to wait for a machine and the group Pilates was so good I made sure to find time to go twice. There’s also a photography studio on board, with a professional photographer on hand to give guidance and help. However, it was perhaps the pool that surprised me most. Naively enough, I thought it would be a no-go at those colder latitudes, but it was so well heated, it felt like a Jacuzzi.
Simply, the meals were excellent. I often found myself in the aptly named “Restaurant” where the highlight was the exquisitely presented lobster. I also mostly dined with a new vegetarian friend, who found her choices equally good. It was all wine paired, with the sommelier always on hand to recommend something from the complimentary or premium lists. Other venues included La Terrazza’s Italian favourites and Hot Rocks, where you can grill your own steak, fish and vegetables by the pool. Each afternoon, there’s also complimentary afternoon tea in the Panorama Lounge. Delightfully English, it’s even accompanied by the resident pianist.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was the chance to dine with members of the expedition team. In La Terrazza, for instance, I spent a very enjoyable lunch with Nico and his wife, learning about his past life as an expedition guide in Patagonia. The dress code for most evenings was casual, with just a couple upgraded to “casually elegant”. This worked well; given the nature of the trip, guests were there to see wildlife and nature, and were not so worried about what they were wearing! Speaking of evening entertainment, there was some lovely live music each night in the Dolce Vita bar and the Panorama Lounge – usually a pianist and singer combo.
Dining aboard the Silver Cloud
With our first day given over to the flight up to Svalbard, ship introductions and cocktails with the captain, things began in earnest the next day. Considering my master’s degree is in responsible tourism, I was very happy that we began with an obligatory Associate of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators meeting, briefing guests on environmental best practice. We also learnt that we’d be treated to one or two excursions each day, ranging from Zodiac cruises to wildlife hikes and history walks.
Then, after donning my complimentary parka and the provided all-weather boots, we set off on our first outing, the ship having made its way round to Worsley Hamna in Svalbard’s north. As always, we were split off into two or three departures, so as to minimise the amount of people on land at one time. So, after the wet landing by Zodiac, the expedition leaders were able to take us on small-group hikes, keeping us informed on the local area’s ecosystem, history and wildlife. It was also the first time we saw the polar bear guards, stationed away in the distance!
Over the next few days, we continued on to desolate Eolusneset and Crozierpynten, where our expedition leaders brought the region’s Arctic-explorer history to life. However, it was a Zodiac trip to Smeerenburg that was my personal highlight. We watched a ten-strong walrus haul out from just metres away, looking on as these magnificent beasts seemed to defy gravity. I’ve been lucky enough to consider myself well-travelled, and this certainly ranks up there as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was made that bit more special by the quiet-vox system, allowing the expedition leader to give up-to-the-second commentary without disturbing the animals.
Our next excursion was just as impressive. Leaving the ship anchored off Bjornfjorden, we took the Zodiacs out to a monumental glacier to watch as icebergs floated past us. We were even lucky enough to see a huge part of the glacier calve off into the sea right in front of us – again one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen!
Whale spotting aboard the Silver Cloud
With an early start the next day, I made the most of the room service and took breakfast in my suite. It was the perfect fuel for our trip to Fjortende Julibreeen – another glacier but this time one that’s accessible by hiking. We were also rewarded with cliffs completely abuzz with birdlife, with thousands of guillemots and kittiwakes on display. The adventure didn’t stop there, however, as when enjoying a drink in the Tor Observation Lounge, I was treated to privileged views of a whale spurting water out of its blowhole. The expedition team, as ever, was on hand to point it out. Amongst it all, 40 or so guests and crew found time to make a jump into the freezing Arctic sea. I’m sorry to report that I didn’t join them.
Then, following a pause for a hiking at Gåshamna, we arrived at Bear Island for further birdwatching fun. It was to be our last stop in the Svalbard Archipelago before we turned back for mainland Europe. This was the only time the sea got a little choppy, but any mention of it was met with seasickness tablets from reception and ginger candies and tea from Sonal.
We made land in Skarsvåg – a pretty little village from where we were brought on to the iconic Nordkapp, passing grazing reindeer along the way. It was the chance to stand at the northernmost point of continental Europe before a Zodiac sailing brought us on to the Gjesvaerstappan Islands, the foggy home to everything from white-tailed sea eagles to Europe’s largest Atlantic puffin colony.
Lastly, with a night in Tromso, we had more time on deck for wildlife spotting and relaxing before a spectacular hike up the majestic Lyngenfjord. It was the certainly the most challenging of the expeditions, but the steep, five-mile roundtrip was well worth it for the beautiful views of the fjord’s glassy reach. Then, with a last night, I took the opportunity to enjoy a last dose of the Midnight Sun with a drink in one of Tromso’s many hip bars. The perfect end to the trip before my flight home the next day.
Tromso under the Midnight Sun
Suffice to say, I am a convert. An expedition cruise really does allow you to see some of the most remote parts of the world, all the while enjoying plenty of luxurious indulgence. In particular, I can absolutely see why Silversea guests are so loyal! The service really made the trip, down to Sola remembering that I liked chamomile tea and having it ready for me in the suite after a cold expedition.